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500 Beds Delivered To McCormick Place As National Guard, Army Corps Build Coronavirus Hospital Inside

There have now been 73 deaths and 5,057 confirmed positive cases in Illinois.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a press conference on the updates about COVID-19 in Illinois on Friday, March 20, 2020 in Chicago.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The conversion of McCormick Place into a coronavirus hospital is underway, with 500 beds expected to be ready this week and 3,000 within a month, Gov. JB Pritzker said Monday.

The National Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers are scrambling to convert the sprawling lakefront convention center into an emergency hospital to help handle the expected surge in coronavirus patients. The majority of the beds are slated for patients not requiring intensive care.

The first delivery of 500 beds arrived Saturday. Another 500 are expected next week. Pritzker said the work is being done “blindingly fast.”

The update on the massive conversion comes as officials announced eight additional deaths from COVID-19 as well as 461 new confirmed cases. There have now been 73 deaths and 5,057 confirmed positive cases in Illinois.

But even more cases and deaths are coming, officials said, which is why Illinois needs to increase its hospital capacity with facilities like McCormick Place.

“Right now in Chicago the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is doubling about every three to four days,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “Stay home. Save lives. … If we don’t, in the city of Chicago alone we’re looking at upwards of 40,000 hospitalizations. Not cases — hospitalizations.

“Here in Chicago our capacity for cases is still well ahead of demand — for now. But it’s truly a race against time.”

Chicago expects to hit a peak in cases in coming weeks, and it will need McCormick Place and people to staff it to help deal with all the patients who will need care, Lightfoot said.

The city is still asking for volunteers with any health care experience to reach out and help battle the virus. Those interested can find more information online.

And though Chicago has been dubbed a growing “hot spot” for the virus, COVID-19 has spread throughout Illinois.

One of the state’s most recent victims was a man incarcerated at the Stateville Correctional Center, a state-run prison in suburban Crest Hill, said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

A cluster of cases has emerged at the prison. Twelve inmates are now hospitalized with coronavirus cases, including several requiring intensive care and ventilators, Ezike said.

Another 11 workers and 77 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, she said.

Illinois saw a jump of more than 1,100 new confirmed cases from Saturday to Sunday. That was more than double the new cases announced between Sunday and Monday. But both Pritzker and Ezike said people should not think from those numbers that cases are dwindling.

In fact, Ezike said Illinois is still in an “exponential growth” phase, with many positive cases not being found yet due to a shortage of tests. Pritzker has previously said Illinois’ cases are expected to peak sometime in April.

The decrease in new confirmed cases on any particular day could have more to do with outside labs taking longer to return results than the state lab, officials said. It could also be from labs turning in their reports slightly after the day’s cutoff, pushing results to the next day.

“You really have to look at a trend, not a single day,” the governor said. “We’ll look at tomorrow’s numbers and the next day and next day.”

Meanwhile, in addition to McCormick Place, Pritzker said the state has launched work at the former Advocate Sherman Health Center in Sherman and MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island. They want to temporarily reopen them.


Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.

Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.

The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The most common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.

How To Protect Yourself

The CDC only recommends those are already sick wear facemasks because they help you avoid spreading the virus.

Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:

  • The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
  • Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.

What To Do If You Think You’re Sick

Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.

Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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